SDWR owner to pay penalties for offering untrained service dogs to customers.
Charles D. Warren Jr. and his Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers firm in Virginia may pay out as much as $3 million in restitution and other penalties to settle a lawsuit originally filed three years ago by State Attorney General Mark Herring. The lawsuit alleged Warren Jr. deceived customers by giving them poorly trained service dogs. An agreement was against the former service dog business owner was signed by the judge this month.
The 2018 suit claimed that diabetic customers could turn to Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers (SDWR) to aid in alerting them when their blood sugar levels were off. However, the dogs were actually untrained and did not provide the services Warren Jr. said they would. As a result, the clients received “little more than incredibly expensive pets.” Moreover, because the animals were untrained and unable to help customers, this increased the risk of the pet owners’ experiencing a life-threatening situation.
Diabetic alert dogs use their sensitive noses to detect fluctuations in blood sugar levels. SDWR assured customers that its retrievers possessed a “proven scent ability” and that they “could be trained to seek help or even dial 911 on special devices.” The attorney general’s office conducted a lengthy investigation into the matter and determined this was untrue. Studies about the ability of animals to use their noses to detect issues have also been mixed.
Warren Jr.’s defense attorney, John B. Russell Jr., had responded to the original suit by saying, “We absolutely deny that we have ever set out to mislead, cheat or defraud our many happy clients…Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers had been working with the attorney general’s office to address the concerns raised and, in many areas, we had already changed our procedures long before their investigation began.”
Herring said, “This suit alleges not just dishonest and unlawful business practices, but a recklessness that could have endangered the lives of customers who relied on the claims made by Service Dogs and its owner. Our investigation shows that, in many instances, Service Dogs was simply selling a $25,000 pet, leaving customers with a huge bill and no protection against a potentially life-threatening blood sugar situation.”
Herring’s office issued a statement, saying, “Warren’s dogs purportedly could assist people who have diabetes, autism and other disorders. But customers often were delivered poorly trained puppies with behavioral issues and inadequate training. Warren charged $18,000 to $27,000 per animal.”
An amended lawsuit also alleged, “Warren misled customers and others in part about its affiliation with law enforcement agencies.”
The consent judgment includes no admission of wrongdoing and indicates that Warren Jr. now resides in Florida. It states,” Warren Jr. must pay $514,000 in restitution to consumers, $1.1 million to the state of Virginia in civil penalties and legal expenses and more than $1.4 million for charities that support purposes for which the company collected funds.”
If Warren agrees to stay out of the service dog breeding business, some of the civil penalties and attorneys’ fees will likely be suspended.